Hate Art Fairs? There’s an Art Fair for That! Meet June, an Experimental New Satellite in Basel
The founders of the selling exhibition have created a booth-free alternative to Basel's overcrowded art fairs inside a Herzog & de Meuron building.
Just when you thought that every possible Basel space suitable for an art fair or selling show had been tried and tested, you find out that you’re wrong. The enterprising founders of Basel’s new satellite event, June, have set up shop in a somehow unoccupied purpose-built gallery designed by Switzerland’s star architects, Herzog & de Meuron. And their gambit seems to be paying off already.
In a quiet courtyard leading to a lush garden a short walk from the Messeplatz, 14 galleries have joined forces to stage the booth-free fair, or “exhibition platform,” as its founders prefer to call it. Half of the dealers taking part in the inaugural edition are veterans of Art Basel’s Statements section for smaller galleries or the fair’s main satellite, LISTE; the other half are brand new to Basel. All of them were attracted by the prospect of showing their artists’ work in a white-cube space designed by Basel’s leading architects.
Despite the pouring rain and plethora of events elsewhere, June was buzzing with people as soon as it opened on Monday (though noticeably quieter on Tuesday during Art Basel’s VIP opening). Collectors, curators, and other curious visitors patiently filed down the venue’s single-file spiral staircase, which leads to a spacious subterranean gallery.
Co-founder Esperanza Rosales, who had presented at LISTE half a dozen times in the past, says that the new venture is “about finding ways to grow in new directions.” The founder of VI, VII gallery in Oslo, she is presenting work by the Swiss artist Tobias Kaspar at June. “We wanted to re-energize people’s experience of seeing our programs in Basel. LISTE was started by gallerists [Peter Kilchmann and Eva Presenhuber] for the same reasons 23 years ago.”
Rosales, who founded the fair with fellow dealer Christian Andersen, says both LISTE’s new director. Joanna Kamm. and the fair’s former director and vice president, Peter Bläuer, had sent messages of support.
In a time of art-fair saturation, the co-founders say they did not want to launch just another market event, but instead to create something closer to what they all know and love best: a well-paced gallery experience. Because the group is small and self-selected, there is no chance of being relegated to a less-than-ideal spot in a larger art fair or far-flung satellite.
The venue is the former home of Freymond-Guth Fine Arts, which closed abruptly in 2017. The big walls and spacious interior gives every work on show a chance to breathe. The same cannot be said for LISTE, where galleries typically present work by high-quality emerging artists in the atmospheric but cramped spaces of the old Warteck brewery.
Despite only a few months to prepare, the organizers managed to convince several of their peers to join them in this experiment. They aimed to provide fellow gallerists a stronger context and more flexibility at a lower cost than LISTE or Art Basel Statements.
Visitors find a discerning selection of dealers with a particular focus on historical works and intergenerational connections. Tokyo’s Misako & Rosen is presenting a collaborative work by the veteran Japanese artist Hisachika Takahashi that has been “annotated” by a younger artist, Yuki Okumura. Meanwhile, two eggshell works by the pioneering conceptual artist Marcel Broodthaers are paired with a series of videos capturing Hollywood’s depiction of women giving birth by the mid-career California-based artist D’Ette Nogle at Hannah Hoffman Gallery of Los Angeles. Hoffman said such a juxtaposition would have been impossible at LISTE, which charges dealers who want to show work by artists over 40 years of age.
What is also especially noticeable is that, like the Independent fair, June has no booths, no sections, and much less danger of visual overload. The result makes for enjoyable viewing: two works by German painter Anne Speier at Vienna’s Meyer Kainer previously included in her solo show at the Secession in Vienna last fall look even better at June than they did in the historic Viennese building.
At the close of business on June’s second day, the experiment seemed to be paying off for many of the 14 gallerists. Galleries making their Basel debut includes Mexico City’s Lulu, a project space-cum-gallery, as well as Midway Contemporary Art, a nonprofit arts organization from Minneapolis. By closing time yesterday, Lulu had sold work by the Berlin-based painter Lea von Wintzingerode.
Another newcomer to Basel, the Green Gallery from Milwaukee, did not hesitate before accepting the offer to join the June club. “There are friends and allies here,” says director John Riepenhoff. “It was important that it was run by peers, not by an inherited power structure.”
“It’s a treat to be able to show in such a beautiful, intimate yet spacious venue,” LA-based dealer François Ghebaly told artnet News. He is delighted to have sold four large paintings by the Romanian artist Marius Bercea to private collections in Switzerland, France, and the US. Each work was priced at €45,000 ($50,000).
Two galleries from Amsterdam, Ellen de Bruijne Projects and Stigter van Doesburg, presented a large multimedia installation by artists Nathaniel Mellors and Erkka Nissinen, with prices for the sculptures and videos ranging from €9,000 to €40,000 ($10,000 to $45,000). By the end of day two, the dealers were in a conversation with a museum interested in acquiring a work. Meanwhile, June’s co-founder Christian Andersen, who is based in Copenhagen, had sold works by German artist Hans-Christian Lotz for €11,000 ($12,400) each.
The participation of Mitchell Algus, who is something of a cult figure as a gallerist, is a notable highlight. The New York-based dealer brought work by a long overlooked contemporary, pioneering American performance and video artist Colette Lumiere. The fair itself is also showing three sculptures by Algus, who is also an artist. Colette’s video Justine and the Boys (1979) includes a young Jeff Koons and Richard Prince, among other New York figures from the era, romping around the artist’s surrealist apartment. It’s a camp classic, but due to its dated, lo-fi camerawork and sound, it might have been drowned out in a more typical fair setting. Algus says Lumiere has been largely ignored by institutions; the video is on offer in an edition of 10, priced at €10,000 ($11,296) each. Also on offer are two unique artworks: album covers she paints and covers with resin.
Algus initially did not think he would take part in June. When contacted by Jeffrey Rosen of Misako & Rosen, Algus says he told him: “There was no way I can afford to do fairs.” Though he was eventually convinced to join the fair, he decided not to attend himself. He explained via email from New York that “art should make its own case.”
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